National Media Forum calls upon P’mentary Council to immediately appoint members to RTI Commission

The Steering Committee of the National Media Forum in a press release issued today (24) called upon the Parliamentary Council represented by Government and Opposition members to immediately appoint members to the Right to Information (RTI) Commission and to ensure the people’s rights guaranteed by Sri Lanka’s Constitution.

“The Right to Information (RTI) Commission, which was constituted under the Right to Information Act No. 12 of 2016, has been defunct for nearly two months due to the failure to appoint members to the Commission. According to the RTI Act, the responsibility of appointing members to the RTI Commission is vested with the Constitutional Council and the President,” the Forum expressed.

It also noted that the Constitutional Council has now been replaced by the Parliamentary Council following the implementation of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution.

“The RTI Act came into effect on August 4, 2016 after then Speaker Karu Jayasuriya endorsed the piece of legislation. The five year term of the first group of members appointed to the RTI Commission came to an end on September 30, 2021. The Parliamentary Council has published a newspaper advertisement seeking nominations for the appointment of members to the RTI Commission. The deadline for the submission of applications concluded on October 19, 2021. At the time, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), media organizations and the civil society had submitted nominees for the Commission in line with Clause 12 of the RTI Act,” the release detailed.

The Forum went on to mention that the RTI Commission consists of five members with one of the members being appointed as the Chairman of the Commission. It was pointed out that the nominee of the BASL has to be appointed to the RTI Commission according to the provisions of the RTI Act, while the Parliamentary Council has to propose names for the other four positions in the Commission to the President. The power of appointing the other four members to the Commission from the names proposed by the Parliamentary Council is vested with the President.

“The Parliamentary Council has so far failed to perform its duties with regard to the RTI Commission. The Parliamentary Council consists of Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, Minister Douglas Devananda and MP Kabir Hashim,” it said.

According to the Forum, the entire process of ensuring the public’s right to information as well as the appeals presented by the people to the RTI Commission have now come to complete standstill.

“Among the key appeals that are currently blocked in the process are the appeals made by the public on the Port City and the arbitrary acquisition of lands. Other processes undertaken by the RTI Commission include the inquiring of the veracity of information related to state institutions, introducing regulations related to providing information and the training of information officers,” the statement further reads.

Other issues, such as the fact that the RTI Commission currently carries out only its administrative work without even a permanent Director General in place were also brought to light.

“According to the RTI Act, it is the Director General who also serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Commission. Clause 19 of the RTI Act stipulates that it is the RTIA Commission that has to appoint the Director General as well as the staff members,” the Forum notes.

It was also stressed that Former Chairman of the RTI Commission Mahinda Gammanpila and the rest of the members of the Commission Kishali Pinto Jayawardena, S.G. Punchihewa, Selvi Thiruchandran and Rohini Walgama, who served in the Commission during the past five years have meticulously carried out their duties in the Commission and had also given several decisive decisions for the benefit of the people. 

“These actions served to ensure the public’s right to information while also ensuring the rights encapsulated in Clause 14(1) of the Constitution,” the statement concluded.